I am a big believer in not just getting a good deal but also getting value for my money. Money does not come easily, that we all know. Not many people can afford to spend tens of thousands of shillings every now and then on a new smartphone.
Being a person who writes about smartphones daily, I get asked every now and then to recommend a smartphone at a certain price. That is usually not the easiest of tasks because most of the time user needs and the price don’t sync and compromises have to be made.
As one of the biggest believers of the rise in great value mid-range smartphones, the lower mid-range segment is always interesting to look at in most instances. In fact, it is the next segment driving huge volumes of sales after the entry-level segment.
As a smartphone buyer, one has only one job: to buy a good smartphone for any amount that they have and not have to keep looking back and regretting the decision they made.
While I appreciate the many smartphones entering the market daily, it’s not just about the numbers; it’s about which device can stand up to be counted. Which device is reliable. Which device won’t start having its colour peeling off after the second week and parts falling apart after the third month of use. Which device you can actually use from January to December without having to stop by a service centre multiple times and eventually giving up and buying a new one. A decent device goes beyond the shiny colour, attractive packaging and colourful marketing. A decent device will still be in a working condition when its white sale receipt starts changing colour.
You see, at whichever price, the smartphone experience needs to be complete. It’s not just about specs, specs and more specs. It’s about the experience. The complete experience. An experience that does not end once you hand over the cash to the vendor.
As a smartphone buyer, one has only one job: to buy a good smartphone for any amount that they have and not have to keep looking back and regretting the decision they made. The smartphones below, in my opinion, will mostly fit that bill. Oh, and to keep up with the 4G craze in the country, all the devices listed below are LTE-capable.
1. Huawei P8 Lite
Huawei was hesitant to bring the P8 Lite to not just Kenya but the whole of the East and Southern Africa (ESA) region. When I attended the launch of the P8 in Johannesburg last year, there was little hope we would get to see the P8 Lite in Kenya. Yet a few months later, it arrived in the market and while I don’t have official figures to quote, I am sure availing the P8 Lite in this market is one of the wisest moves Huawei has ever made.
The P8 Lite has the right specs and probably the best camera among all devices on this list, the right name (a P8 by association) and the correct pricing. It is hard not to recommend the P8 every time someone tells me that their budget is between Kshs 18,000 and 20,000.
2. Samsung Galaxy J5
I reviewed this device last year. Even though Samsung has gone on to release a 2016 edition, last year’s J5 which is the one that is available in the market at the moment is still one of my favourites. It has a big, nice display, good performance, decent battery life and the ability to take customization a bit further with the many themes available on Samsung’s theme store.
3. Huawei GR3
It is the gorgeous Huawei GR5’s little sibling. It shares the looks but lacks some features like the fingerprint scanner and the optical image stabilization found on the GR5’s main camera. I’d pick the P8 Lite over it but since it is a thousand or two shillings cheaper, it doesn’t hurt to go with the Huawei GR3. The GR3 started selling in Kenya in mid-March at a price of Kshs 21,000, which is slightly beyond the scope of this article. However, its price has since fallen and the device can be had for Kshs 20,000 or lower in most stores.
4. Alcatel Idol 3
Alcatel is getting ready to introduce the Idol 3’s successor, the Idol 4 and 4S, in the Kenyan market. However, until that happens, last year’s Idol 3, which still has the OneTouch branding that has since been dropped, remains king.
As per my review of the device late last year, it has the best sound than any smartphone on this list thanks to those JBL-tuned dual front-facing speakers. It can also be held and used either way (upside down or upright, doesn’t matter). It also has the looks to match all the praise being showered upon it.
At just 4.7-inches, it is likely the tiniest smartphone on this list but that shouldn’t bother you that much because for at most Kshs 19,000 (for the 8GB version), you are getting value for every one of your coins. Be prepared for the average battery life, though.
5. Microsoft Lumia 550
This is a wildcard.
At this point in time, there’s not much I can say or do to reassure anyone that it makes sense to go out and buy a Windows smartphone. However, after limited interaction with the Lumia 550 and even longer run-ins with its predecessors the Lumia 540 and the Lumia 535, I can vouch for it.
At Kshs 15,000 or a little less (the recommended retail price is Kshs 14,000), you are getting the latest Windows experience on mobile on the best budget smartphone Microsoft has to offer. While the future of the platform seems to be in jeopardy, that should not deter anyone from getting a good, sturdy and capable device like the Lumia 550. Trust me, it is still better than a lot of all those other smartphone brands that I won’t bother naming. How do I know that? Because I have used them a lot in the last one year and they still have some work to do before gaining the required levels of trust.
This would definitely have made the list were it not for its limited availability. The Wileyfox Swift, at Kshs 19,000, is the best smartphone to experience one of the best Android experiences on a budget non-Nexus smartphone. There is an Android One smartphone in the Kenyan market providing the pure Android experience but the less I say about it the better. Oh, and it doesn’t even enter this Kshs 15,000-20,000 focus segment so we’re stuck with the Swift.
The only problem is that I am not sure if Wileyfox is committing to long-term availability of its devices in this market or not. You can only get the Swift in a few Tricom shops in Nairobi and online on Kilimall but as we all know, Kenya is not just Nairobi and offline sales channels are still the most crucial in this country.
The Kshs 15,000-20,000 price range is kind of a nice spot since you are not getting a device with the many compromises that entry-level smartphones ship with to justify their low pricing and you are also not being charged exorbitantly. By looking in the right places, you can end up with the best of both worlds.
So, there you have it. Many will have a divergent opinion (which is welcome in the comment section below) but this is it because I don’t drink and I know things 🙂.